No Water for Cruise Ships as Spain Battles Drought

Drought conditions in Spain are leading to several measures impacting the country's tourism industry, including cruise ships calling to Barcelona.

In response to the severe drought conditions affecting Catalonia, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) and its members have reached an agreement with the Port of Barcelona to suspend water supply to cruise ships, except in emergencies. Other ports are being urged to adopt the same policy, leading to concerns for cruises this summer.

Spain is currently experiencing the worst drought in the last 100 years, particularly impacting the Catalonia region, including Barcelona, and extending to Andalusia, Spain’s most populated region. The drought has led to Catalonia declaring a drought emergency.

Drought Conditions Could Affect Cruise Ships

Spain is currently facing its most severe drought in a century, significantly impacting daily life and the extensive tourism sector, which includes cruise operations.

With winter ending and the cruise season approaching this spring, the scarcity of water presents a challenge for ships sailing to Catalonia, and its capital Barcelona, the biggest cruise port in Spain.

Cruise industry trade organization CLIA together with local authorities, have already taken the first step in addressing potential issues associated with cruise ships by agreeing not to draw water supplies from the Port of Barcelona during the drought emergency phase. 

Whether or not the lack of water intake in port will affect cruise ships significantly depends on the capacity to produce water on board. Cruise ships, traditionally relying on ports for freshwater supplies, have significantly reduced their water intake in recent years.

Cruise Ships Docked in Barcelona, Spain
Cruise Ships Docked in Barcelona, Spain (Photo Credit: Iglwch)

Innovations in water production, including evaporators and reverse osmosis plants, enable these vessels to independently generate over 90% of their freshwater needs.

The industry’s efforts have already led to a substantial decrease in water bunkering at the Port of Barcelona, from 50% of calls in 2017 to less than 30% in 2022.

The aim this year is to bring the number of cruise ships that require water during their call to 10%. This is for all ships that are associated with CLIA, or the Cruise Line International Association, which includes some 50+ cruise lines.

Large cruise ships can use tens of thousands of gallons of water per day. This includes water for drinking, cooking, bathing, toilets, swimming pools and slides, and other onboard activities. Most of the water is produced on board through desalination processes, while additional water may be taken on at port stops. 

Other Ports Could Implement Water Restrictions

Barcelona is one of the busiest cruise ports in Europe, which means that the water restrictions will have a significant impact on the situation in the city. However, it also means that other ports could be seeing an increase in requests for fresh water. 

Environmental activists have called for similar measures in the Balearic Islands, which includes Mallorca, the second busiest cruise port in Spain.

MSC Cruises in Barcelona, Spain
Photo Credit: Atapialopez28 / Shutterstock

The Platform against Mallorca Megacruises is advocating for restrictions on supplying water to ships docking in Mallorca:

“Although the severity levels of Catalonia have not been reached, in the Balearic Islands we are currently on pre-alert for drought on all the islands, except for the smallest which is already on alert,” the group said in a statement to the Express.

The group further states that the significant water needs of cruise ships pose a risk to the water resources available on the Islands, which could lead to a limit on water usage to ensure residents are not affected.

For now, the situation seems to be fairly contained, however, as more cruise ships sail towards the Mediterranean in the upcoming months, the need for freshwater will only increase. 

Cruise ships may opt for a day at sea rather than calling at a port to ensure they can produce sufficient fresh water, a process achievable only while at sea. If the drought in Spain continues through the spring and summer, guests should expect cruise ships to potentially cancel port calls. 

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